You hear it all the time, and it's most certainly true — the time just before the draft is football's "silly season", when you should — in the words of the legendary Marvin Gaye — believe none of what you hear, and only half of what you see. This isn't just true of team visits and interests; where each NFL team gets a specific number of prescribed meetings with draft-eligible players and says virtually the same things about how great every visit and workout went.
It's also true when it comes to the specter of injuries — what's really an issue, and what's just taking up space for draft analysts who need a certain amount of stuff to talk about every day. Remember last pre-draft, when everyone was convinced that Sam Bradford's shoulder was a major problem? One consensus Offensive Rookie of the Year award later, things look a bit different, and that started when Bradford showed up at the 2010 scouting combine with 15 pounds of new muscle, and St. Louis Rams general manager Billy Devaney had his decision made for him.
Every year, it's the same. And right now, there's a lot of talk about Clemson defensive end Da'Quan Bowers, who suffered a slight meniscus tear in his knee. The injury was so slight, in fact, that Bowers played the second half of the 2010 season, and got about half his sacks, after the injury. He then went in after the season to get the knee scoped and fixed, leaving him a bit behind the 8-ball when it came to the rehab timing process. He missed the full combine workout, and wasn't quite in shape for a disappointing performance at his April 1 individual pro day.
This has all been well-documented, but the interesting thing is how the rumors of Bowers having microfracture surgery and degenerative arthritis in that knee caught fire. The rumors tool hold to the point that even after Bowers passed his medical re-test last week in Indianapolis with flying colors (a fact confirmed to Yahoo! Sports by Travelle Gaines, Bowers' trainer, shortly after the results were made official), people simply changed the threat level of their rumors to read that the knee could be a "long-term problem".
Well, sure. You show me a football player who doesn't have long-term medical issues after a while, and I'll show you a guy who's been sitting on the bench holding a clipboard, or filling up a practice squad. That's very different than the alarmist alerts put out about Bowers; alerts that I found hard to believe when I was down in Los Angeles at API, watching Bowers train late last month. In my experience, guys with bad knees don't perform 9-foot-6 inch broad jumps at 6-foot-3 and 280 pounds.
Bowers' agent, Joe Flanagan of BTI Sports Advisors, is as frustrated with this process as you might imagine, and released the following statement today (it's after the jump). I don't know Flanagan, who obviously has interest in positive reports about Bowers' health taking over the news cycle, but I've known Travelle Gaines long enough to know that if there was a real problem with Da'Quan Bowers' knee, he wouldn't hide it -- and he would tell me.
While we generally reserve discussions on client medical information to club decision-makers and physicians, in the interest of clarity, we would like to share the following facts regarding Da'Quan Bowers. Importantly, NONE of the following is news to NFL decision-makers or team doctors. All 32 NFL Clubs have had full access to Da'Quan's records since January and have had the opportunity to physically examine him at least twice. As such, they have known the specifics detailed below for quite some time.
On January 4, 2011, Da'Quan underwent an arthroscopic procedure that included what is, technically, a very small chondroplasty to a non-weight bearing area of his knee. The surgeon, Dr. Larry Bowman, observed, arthroscopically, a very healthy knee with no signs of arthritis. Based on the specifics of Da'Quan's knee and the small size of the area addressed, it was described to us as follows: while chondroplasty can involve "drilling", Da'Quan had the equivalent of "scratching". In other words, along the continuum, it was very minor. So minor that Da'Quan was off crutches and bearing weight only 3 days after surgery. Thereafter, Da'Quan progressed on a conservative rehab protocol that emphasized protection of the healing process, as opposed to the typical combine prep performance training.
As to his progress and the feedback from the medical recheck, every team we've spoken to, including multiple GMs, has said that, overall, Da'Quan's knee has shown good healing, has continued to get better since the Combine, and, perhaps most importantly, showed absolutely no acute or remote ill-effects as a result of his April 1 workout (i.e. no swelling, no increase in laxity, etc.). We know of at least two "stations" (multiple doctors) at the recheck who improved his grade from the Combine. In short, their doctors indicated that the fact that the knee didn't swell up after a full pro-day workout, followed immediately by a week of visiting teams via air travel (which can increase swelling) is clearly a very positive sign.
Bottom line: if it's holding up from a pounding in April, it should clearly hold up in August..
As to films, the Combine films showed no onset of arthritis and since Da'Quan had no swelling, contrary to some reports, or other symptoms at the recheck, no new films were taken.
At the recheck, there was the expected finding of a strength deficit in his right (surgical) leg as compared to his left, as measured by the Cybex test. But each person who has mentioned this deficit has also stated the following: (1) that this deficit is simply a muscular deficit due to "detraining effects" (lost strength because he was limited by rehab protocol), (2) that Da'Quan will regain his normal strength in the right leg, and (3) that there are questions as to the validity of isokinetic testing like the Cybex in the first place. So, as with all the findings, each club will weight this very differently.
The reality is that clubs will ultimately judge Da'Quan's workout on April 1 and the recheck in the context of the training limitations placed upon him by the medical team overseeing his rehab, including Dr. James Andrews. The fact that Da'Quan spent the VAST majority of his time prior to April 1 focused on rehabilitation, NOT performance or strength training, is significant. This focus was designed to ensure complete healing and protect the long-term integrity of Da'Quan's knee, something that benefits both Da'Quan and the club that selects him. And, in this context, while his numbers were not satisfactory to Da'Quan or indicative of his true athleticism, he still managed to perform a 34.5" vertical jump and a 7.1 three-cone on raw ability.
Obviously, sources and opinions on any prospect with a medical history will vary from team to team, doctor to doctor, trainer to trainer and GM to GM. We have received no reports of "arthritis" being present. We have received no indications that Da'Quan will need another surgery. No team has even remotely suggested to us that he's a risk in year one or will need a redshirt year. Clearly there are both objective and subjective sides to every medical issue. Given that context, we understand that comfort-levels will vary team by team. Dr. Andrews' comfort-level was such that he said Da'Quan should "be able to resume his professional football career without any problems" and that he has a "good prognosis for his career."
Again, NONE of this is news to the NFL decision-makers or team doctors. All 32 NFL Clubs have had full access to Da'Quan's records since January and have had the opportunity to physically examine him at least twice. With this knowledge, Top 10 teams brought him in all last week and continue to bring Da'Quan in for visits this week. All of these clubs are strongly considering selecting him with their first pick, not based upon a potential medical downside, but because of Da'Quan's film, smarts, character and tremendous physical upside